El Escorial

(continuer en français) – Published: January 14, 2023

El Escorial, Spain
El Escorial, Spain

The monastery-palace of El Escorial is located 50 kilometres, 30 miles, from Madrid and is a pleasant day trip during a stay in the Spanish capital.

King Philip II decided to build El Escorial in 1563. In 1561 the capital had been moved from Toledo to Madrid. At that time Spain had a huge colonial empire which provided abundant resources for the royal power. The initial plan was completed in 1584.

The establishment of El Escorial had several purposes.
Monastery, housing a collection of several thousand relics.
Palace, where the royal family resided, as well as part of the court and the administration.
Library, seeking to make available all knowledge in all written languages. It serves as a support for the foundation of a college.
– A museum-pinacotheca for the royal collections.
Necropolis for the monarchs and their direct descendants.

El Escorial has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.


Photos are not allowed inside the Palace, so it is not possible to illustrate the visit properly. There are some places that are more attractive.

The great library where thousands of books are displayed with their golden edges. This gives a spectacular effect but the titles cannot be read. However, some books in Greek, Hebrew and Arabic are displayed in glass cases.
The royal suites of the Austrian Habsburgs and then the French Bourbons show the evolution of styles and the improvement of domestic comfort, even for the kings.
The necropolis in the cold, dark basement has dozens of white marble catafalques lined up against each other. In the deepest part, a room is reserved for the sovereigns, from Charles V to Alfonso XIII.


The vast quadrilateral is organised around several courtyards, linked by corridors. The numerous buildings are occupied by the various functions of the site. Immediately behind the main gate, the main courtyard leads directly to the basilica.

Main courtyard
Main entrance
Main courtyard
Main courtyard


The royal family’s suites mainly overlooked the gardens, which extend under two facades and are composed of parterres of trimmed boxwood. At the base of the wall there is also a row of climbing roses forming a fragrant decoration.

The town

San Lorenzo de El Escorial was originally a modest village, somewhat lost in the semi-mountainous Sierra de Guadarrama region. From the beginning of the construction, the population swelled with all the workers and those who provided for them. Then came the palace service and the court, which had to be housed in large buildings built on the outskirts of the palace.

Today, it is the visitors who shape the local economy. Although the streets around the palace have many restaurants and cafes, the town’s urban planning is kept under control to avoid distorting its appearance.

The town of El Escorial, Spain
The town of El Escorial, Spain
The town of El Escorial, Spain

Visiting from Madrid

Only about 30 miles, 50 kilometres, from Madrid, El Escorial is an easy trip to make. Without a car, it is possible to take the train from Atocha station, or preferably Chamartin station, where the frequency is higher.

The line is part of the suburban network and although the train is modern, its speed is low as it serves many stops. In El Escorial, the station is about a kilometre from the monastery, although it is a steep climb, and the distance is easy to cover.

Path to the monastery
Train from Madrid to El Escorial
Train from Madrid to El Escorial

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El Escorial, Spain


  1. When we visited Spain I wished we could have spent a few more days in Madrid as it seems like a great home base to explore nearby towns and cities. El Escorial looks like there’s a lot to see and do. It’s a bummer that no photos were allowed inside the palace as I bet the great library was stunning. I love how neat and tidy the gardens are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • El Escorial is certainly a good addition to a visit to Madrid. As for the photos, it seems that this is a national law that applies to all national heritage, I hope that this law will change soon as it no longer corresponds to the evolution of society and technology.


    • It might be an advantage of European countries to have had royal families, as their ability to mobilise the country’s resources at certain times made it possible to build a prestigious heritage that did not respond to a simple need for day-to-day management.


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